At first light this morning, in the silence of St. Peter’s Basilica, the voyage to Bergamo began for the remains of Pope St. John XXIII – Bergamo, the diocese in which Angelo Roncalli served for 40 years, and Sotto il Monte where he was born November 25, 1881.

The theme of the trip is a phrase from this Saint who returns to his land and people for the 60th anniversary of his election to the papacy: “We begin from the land where I was born and we continue right up to heaven.”

This will be an 18-day pilgrimage, an exceptional gift from Pope Francis. There was a precedent that took place in the spring of 1959 when Pope John XXIII (Italians often called him, as they do all Popes, by his last name, Papa Roncalli) authorized the departure of the remains of St. Pius X for his native Venice.

This morning, in the basilica, it was the archpriest of St. Peter’s, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, who presided at the ceremony of the departure of the intact remains of John XXII. His remains were transferred from the Vatican Grottoes to the main part of the basilica in 2001, the year of his beatification, when he was placed in the glass coffin that all persons visiting the basilica can view.

JFL photo:

Cardinal Comastri recalled John XXIII’s love for his native land where “he breathed the faith in the beautiful example of his parents. Today, John XXIII fulfils the pilgrimage of gratitude and blessings towards the land where he was born, where he became Christian and where his priestly vocation matured.”

Reciting a prayer for those present, the cardinal spoke of “God’s profume” in John XXIII, his always having sowed seeds of hope, helping people to be “instruments of peace at home and in the public square.”

There will be a number of stops on his pilgrimage for St. John XXIII, whose remains arrived in the heart of Bergamo this afternoon at 3:30. The first stop was the prison in Via Gleno in remembrance of Pope John’s visit to detainees in Rome’s Regina Coeli prison. His remains will travel to the seminary and, at 9 pm, will be solemnly welcomed in the cathedral for a prayer vigil.

For a video of the morning ceremony that accompanied this story by Vatican Media, click here: